Goose liver pate is a culinary paste or spread made from the fatty liver — or foie gras — of a goose. It is considered a delicacy by some, though others would prefer that it be banned on animal-cruelty grounds. To make a pate, one combines a goose’s engorged liver with seasonings and wine or brandy. The liver is then cooked and compressed into a cake of liver.
The first step in the process of making goose liver pate is forcing a goose to eat copious amounts of food while denying it exercise. This process, based on one developed by ancient Egyptians and Romans, results in a goose with a fatty liver. The most common food used for this purpose is a grain such as wheat or corn, though ancient Romans also appear to have fed figs to their geese. When French cooks adopted this process as part of their own culinary traditions, they began to call it la gavage.
Geese are birds that have a natural tendency to develop fat throughout their bodies. The geese used to make goose liver pate get extra food that makes them develop a fatty liver. Once the goose’s keeper thinks its liver has enough fat, the goose is slaughtered.
The goose liver is then cooked in a terrine, a glass dish with tall sides. The lid is weighted to force the stored fat in the goose’s liver to rise to the top of the dish. After the cooked liver is chilled, the resulting pate is served as an appetizer or full course in a multicourse meal.
Goose liver pate is simple, yet sophisticated. The classic accompaniment for goose liver pate is a freshly baked baguette of French bread. When none is available, one can substitute a dense white bread or crackers. If one uses crackers, the flavor must be subtle so it does not overpower the rich flavor of the pate.
One can make liver pate with the liver of other types of poultry, but they will not have the same flavor as goose liver. In the French countryside, cooks often substitute duck liver when a fattened goose is not available. These poultry alternates also may require a different seasoning strategy.
With the advent of refrigeration, it is not necessary to consume an entire pate immediately after preparing it. Goose liver pate lasts up to three days under refrigeration. The unused portion should be kept tightly wrapped.